NAACP Convention Marks Racial Recovery In Ohio

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The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is hosting its 99th convention in downtown Cincinnati this weekend. The city had been boycotted by prominent black organizations and public figures after 2001 race riots broke out there. Cincinnati's mayor Mark Mallory talks with NPR's Liane Hansen.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People kicked off its 99th annual convention in Cincinnati yesterday. Senators Barack Obama and John McCain will both be speaking there this week.

This is big news for Cincinnati, which was torn apart by race riots in 2001 and was later boycotted by prominent African-American organizations and public figures. Cincinnati's mayor, Mark Mallory, joins us from member station WGUC. Welcome to the program, Mr. Mayor.

Mayor MARK MALLORY (Democrat, Cincinnati): Thank you, it's a pleasure to be with you.

HANSEN: How much do you think having the conference in your city this week will heal the wounds from 2001?

Mayor MALLORY: I think it's very important. I think it is a real opportunity for us to showcase the city of Cincinnati in its current light and to contrast that with the Cincinnati that people became aware of nationally and even internationally in 2001.

HANSEN: Hmm. Politically, Ohio, though, is a swing state. Do you think that's one of the reasons why the NAACP chose Cincinnati for the conference?

Mayor MALLORY: We knew that the presidential candidates were going to come to the convention no matter where it was. I think we were in competition with Las Vegas in the final round. Part of the pitch that we made, though, was that Ohio is so critical to the presidential campaigns that the organization itself would put itself in a more prominent position by having the convention in the state of Ohio, particularly Cincinnati.

HANSEN: I want to talk a little bit about the candidates who will be there. Barack Obama will be there tomorrow night. 20,000 people are expected to attend. John McCain will be speaking there on Wednesday. At the moment, do you have a sense of where the residents of your city actually stand on the candidates?

Mayor MALLORY: Politically, the city of Cincinnati is definitely Democrat city. Cincinnati is in Hamilton County. Hamilton County is definitely a Republican county. What we've seen, though, in the last several presidential elections is that the margin by which the Republican candidate has won Hamilton County has decreased with each election.

HANSEN: Go back to 2001. Give us a brief history about what was behind the riots and what effect they had on the city.

Mayor MALLORY: Well, you had a series of police interactions that led to the police fatally shooting young, in some cases African-American males, and I think that things sort of reached a boiling point with Timothy Thomas, who was not armed. The officer thought that he was. He was shot and killed, and the city erupted in riots.

HANSEN: Is it your impression that racial tensions have indeed eased in the city over the past seven years?

Mayor MALLORY: They definitely have. When I ran for mayor in 2001, one of the things I talked about was that I felt that we had gone through this cycle where there was this event that separated the races based on what was happening within the police department.

And I think there's a point at which people, once they have been divided for so long, want to come back together, a period of reconciliation. They want to be together. They understand that there are differences between the races, and those differences are not the things that define us in the city anymore.

HANSEN: Democrat Mark Mallory is the first directly elected black mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio. The NAACP is holding its 99th annual convention there this week. Mayor, thanks for joining us.

Mayor MALLORY: Thank you.

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